Netanyahu gears up for meetings with Trump, world leaders

PM to meet leaders of Panama, Japan and Rwanda on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, turns down Swedish request for a sit-down

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the 71st UN general assembly debate at the UN headquarters in New York City, on September 22, 2016 (Amir Levy/FLASH90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the 71st UN general assembly debate at the UN headquarters in New York City, on September 22, 2016 (Amir Levy/FLASH90)

NEW YORK — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to meet a series of world leaders here this week, in addition to his much-anticipated powwow with US President Donald Trump on Monday.

On Sunday, Netanyahu will spend most of the day preparing for his annual address to the United Nations General Assembly, his aides said. In the late afternoon, he is scheduled to meet with World Economic Forum Chairman Klaus Schwab and with a group of American Jewish leaders. Both meetings are closed to the press.

On Monday at 1 p.m. local time, the prime minister will meet with Trump in the New York Palace Hotel. Both leaders will make brief statements to the press to open the meeting, before continuing their discussion behind closed doors.

Later in the afternoon, Netanyahu is set to meet the president of Panama, Juan Carlos Varela; the prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe; and Rwandan President Paul Kagame at the UN.

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven had sought a meeting as well, but Netanyahu refused, likely because Israel is still angry over Stockholm’s 2014 recognition of a Palestinian state, though Israeli officials on Saturday cited scheduling difficulties.

Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Lofven arrives for a summit on relations between the European Union and Turkey and on managing the migration crisis, on November 29, 2015 in Brussels. (Thierry Charlier/AFP)

Hosting members of the Israeli delegation on Friday at an evening welcoming the Sabbath, Netanyahu said that more leaders asked for meetings than he could accommodate.

On Tuesday morning, the prime minister is expected to attend Trump’s first address to the UN. A few hours later, at around 1:30 p.m., Netanyahu will deliver his own speech.

Speaking to reporters at his hotel in New York on Friday, after wrapping up a trip to Latin America, Netanyahu said that the main message of his UN speech will be that “Israel will not tolerate an Iranian military presence on our northern borders. An [Iranian] military presence endangers not just us, but also our Arab neighbors.”

According to recent reports denied by Israeli sources, Russia rebuffed an Israeli demand to ensure that Iranian forces and Iran-backed Shiite militants be kept at least 60-80 kilometers away from the Syrian frontier with Israel in the Golan Heights.

The demand was initially raised by Israel in July, when negotiations were underway for a ceasefire deal in southern Syria between President Bashar Assad and Syrian rebels, under the auspices of Washington and Moscow.

Netanyahu has repeatedly warned against Iran’s military ambitions in the area, Tehran’s bid to establish a territorial “corridor” all the way to the Mediterranean, and an increased Iranian presence on Israel’s northern border.

The issue will also be a centerpiece of Netanyahu’s Monday sit-down with Trump, along with the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the future of the Iranian nuclear deal.

A short while after his UN speech, the prime minister’s entourage will make its way to JFK Airport, to arrive in Israel in time for the Jewish New Year, which starts Wednesday evening.

IDF vehicles driving along the road parallel to the border fence separating the Israeli and Syrian regions of the Golan Heights, July 19, 2017. (AFP/MENAHEM KAHANA)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who will also address the UN General Assembly, will meet with Trump on Wednesday.

On Friday, the Israeli consulate in New York City was briefly shut, and employees were barred from leaving the premises, after an envelope with white powder was sent to the building along with a direct threat against Netanyahu’s life.

Local security forces examined the envelope’s contents and once it was clear that the substance was not harmful, workers were allowed out of the building, which houses Israel’s New York consulate and its UN mission, Channel 10 reported.

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